Advanced technology is breeding crime: Are you protecting your information?

Padlock over computer over skyline internet security

Cyber liability, while abstract in nature, is a real threat. From the monster hacking of Equifax, to headlines about other high-profile companies falling victim to data breaches, we have become hyper-aware that the process of stealing someone’s identity has been eased and amplified with the spread of technology. According Javelin Strategy & Research, the number of identity fraud victims increased by 8% in 2017, rising to 16.7 million U.S. consumers. We, as consumers, are eager to protect ourselves, but. . . how?

While there are no guarantees, there are easy and practical actions to prevent identity theft, online and off.

Know your numbers: Order and re-view a free credit report for fraudulent accounts, inquiries or information. Check your online banking for discrepancies in purchases. Establish a routine for updating the security of your ac-counts. Identity theft prevention services will monitor your credit reports, public records, credit cards and social security daily. Reduce the number of preapproved credit offers you receive for five years: Call 888-5OPT-OUT or visit optoutprescreen.com, which the consumer-reporting companies operate.

Don’t overshare: Be careful how much you share on social media. Don’t give away information hackers could use, like phone numbers, addresses, date or place of birth. Be wary of games with friends where you “quiz” one other on personal details. These facts, like the name of your first pet, your mother’s maiden name, etc., may be answers to the security questions you establish when you sign up for something like online banking.

Pick smart passwords: Passwords that are short or easily guessed reduce the amount of time it takes criminals to detect your log-in. Pick a password at least eight characters long using upper- and lowercase letters, symbols and numbers. Avoid entering your password at unsecured wi-fi connections, (coffee shops, airports), where hackers can intercept your information.

Be aware of online behavior: Use caution when clicking links from social media, websites and emails. A link that appears harmless may contain malware that can compromise your computer and exploit your saved data. The same applies for email attachments from unknown sources. If you serve on a board, know what information your biography includes; make sure it is not personal in nature. When you visit a webpage that asks for personal information, check that the URL begins with “https,” (rather than just “http,” with no “s”), which is how you know the site is secure.

Ensure that those around you are concerned about information security: From household staff to financial advisors, security should be on the minds of those close to you; they should report suspicious activity, phone calls or emails.

Partner with the right businesses: While the Equifax breach has companies thinking about the potential risk, smaller companies still downplay the potential for risk, lack the resources to structure proper risk management and underestimate the need for proper insurance in the event of such an attack. Don’t give out SSN numbers unnecessarily (only for tax reasons, credit or verified employment). Before providing personal identifiers, know how they will be used.

To prevent identity theft off-line, use checks sparingly and purchase a shredder for important documents. Use a credit card over a debit card to pre-vent losses, especially at gas stations, restaurants, hotels and online or for recurring payments.

We often think identity theft won’t happen to us or that a lawyer will deal with it if it does. That is not the case. While no one is immune, you can greatly reduce your risk of becoming a victim by staying on your guard and being conscious of your internet actions.

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